It must have been the summer of 1961. Certainly before the Beatles. The music that year was all Dean Martin and the Drifters, or itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini.* And I recall being in love with a girl in the 4th form at Queens’s school in Rheindalen, Carol, and constantly singing a song to her called “Oh Carol”.** And there was Elvis of course. Anyway, I was in the boy scouts then. Moved on I had from the cubs, left behind all that Akela and dib dib, dib, dob, dob, dob stuff. Cubs had sixers in charge. I had been a sixer when a cub. Born to command I was. Now, in that summer of ’61, I had graduated to the scouts and I was quickly made a Patrol leader. Sometimes I even wore long trousers.
They would meet once a week, Wednesday evening, in St. Georges School in Monchen Gladbach. It was set within the perimeter of Ayrshire barracks, a huge British military vehicle depot with acres and acres and acres of military Lorries and armoured vehicles and jeeps, motorcycles and trucks of all sorts and sizes, all kept in a high state of readiness for a possible soviet invasion. The school building was possibly the oldest building left in post war Monchen Gladbach. It had a chapel at the very top where we would go for Mass on a Sunday, presided over by an elderly Dutch Priest shipped in from Venlo. He had very little English and conducted the Mass in Latin with a Dutch accent. It was an endurance test those masses. No joy, no reflection. Nothing. The school was on the next two floors below. Headmaster was a Mr. Denton. He would laugh a lot, always telling stories and encouraging the children to do the same, he delighted in their company, believed in them. He was perhaps more important a teacher than all those that followed in the fractured educational experience that came the way of service children. He had a gorgeous daughter, Valerie, with whom all the boys were in love. The scouts and cubs met in the basement which was a vast beautifully vaulted space of columns and arches.
We would be taken there in army Volkswagen cars or vans of which the authorities had an inexhaustible store of, and would go out their way to provide them for service families. They were driven by ex-Wehrmacht German soldiers. They still wore they field grey or was it green uniforms and caps. Without, of course the SS flashes or Iron crosses or indeed any insignia or badges at all. They looked rather scruffy and forlorn. Defeated. The Volkswagens would tour the estates of married quarter’s and pick up the children of the service families, convey them to scouts and take them back home afterwards.
We wore a badge on our left shoulder, or perhaps our breast pocket. The same regional badge as the regular army. A Saxon war- axe, which we were told, was modeled on a real axe found by archaeologists when the British Army was building its headquarters up the road in Rheindalen.
Perhaps supervision was a bit of a problem. We found in the vast vaulted basement a large stock of red paint. It was, I think, for painting fire engines. We painted all the vaulted ceilings, the arches and columns in bright red. Even the floor. And possibly a boy scout or two. We were very proud of our extensive work and achievement and reasonably expected to get a painting & decorating “proficiency” badge to wear with our uniforms. Merit badges the Americans call them. But things didn’t quite work out. I was demoted from Patrol leader, busted to simple rank and file boy scout. A rather bitter blow, from which, to be honest, I have never quite gotten over. Thereafter we met in an old Nissan hut and never again graced St. George’s School.
Each summer, and sometimes at Easter, we would go camping. Oh what fun! We camped once at a seaside resort in Holland. We made quite an impression and If there had been a merit badge for shoplifting we would all surely have got it. And we camped up in Paderborn in the mountains. But the place I remember best of all was the forests and hills above the Royal Air Force base at Bruggen near the Dutch boarder.
The tents were of rough green canvas. Six person tents, or in those days, six man tents. But you could get eight boy scouts in a six man tent. They would be sited in neat rows and between the rows there were two or three campfires which were kept burning all day and night and upon which we cooked sausages. Lots of sausages. And beans. Lots of beans. And occasionally a fried egg ala twigs. They were set in a valley, the tents, and up at the top of the valley was a wooden hut, about two kilometers away, which served as a tuck shop. One or two afternoons a week a volunteer from the RAF Bruggen scout troop would open the hut to sell confectionery to visiting scout troops, who came to camp from all over the British Army of the Rhine area.
The hut was in truth, a very tempting target. And we boys, with more merit badges than common sense, highly trained in field craft and rather partial to confectionery decided to raid the tuck shop hut and liberate some of the sweets therein. It was done with military precision. Lookouts posted at strategic positions to warn of any approaching adults. The warning was to be an owl hooting. Terwit terwoo, terwit terwoo. (bird impersonation/merit badge) We had swag sacks to carry away the loot, in reality the sacks that the tent pegs and mallets were stored. There was a signalling system set up with torches. (Morse code/merit badge) The simple lock on the door was prised open with a wood cutters axe. (woodcutting/merit badge) And suddenly, we were surrounded by all kinds of boxes of sweets.
The sweets and confectionery were divided on a strict basis of equality. Packets of spangles and refreshers, liquorice pipes, sweet cigarettes, Pontefract cakes, Chewits, Imperial mints, wine gums and pastilles, all religiously distributed regardless of rank age and I suppose, although it didn’t quite figure in our then underdeveloped minds, sexual orientation, there was no merit badge for sexual orientation, although had there been a badge for the philosophy of equality we would all have surely qualified. I might mention the crisps. Two boxes of packets of crisps held in the hut were found, upon being tested, to be not fit for purpose. The crispiness had gone out of them and the little blue bags of salt were a bit damp. Crisp packet technology was not very advanced in those days. We left the crisps behind.
It was late in the afternoon the next day that the RAF Bruggen volunteer tuck shop man was observed approaching the hut (observer/merit badge). He was seen in an agitated condition and shortly afterwards left, only to return sometime later with a landrover following his vehicle in which there were three RAF military policemen. Snowdrops they were called. Now it wasn’t of course the crime of the century and it didn’t need a Sherlock Homes of the Snowdrops to work out who had committed the offence. A wooden hut in the middle of nowhere. Nobody around for a twenty-mile radius except for the green tents of the 1st Monchen Gladbach scout encampment, some two kilometers down the valley. Towards the late afternoon the three snowdrops and the tuck shop hut man began to walk down the valley towards the tents.
We had an early warning system in place with camouflaged observers watching their advance. (camouflage/merit badge) The wooded valley, rather suddenly, filled with the hoots of owls as a mild panic set in amongst the hardy boy-scouts as they desperately attempted to destroy all possible evidence. One of the campfires suddenly burst into fiery life as various packets of sweets were fed to its flames. Some tried to scoff the evidence. I tried, in fact I succeeded, in scoffing a whole box of Pontefract cakes, an act I was later to regret on the primitive latrines of the forested campsite. I recall another of the patrol leaders with a mouth full of sweet cigarettes. By the time the snowdrops special investigation team reached the tents they found a sizable group of scouts gathered around a suspiciously blazing campfire vigorously singing “Ging gang goolle goolie whatcha” with a rather over the top exaggerated emphasis on the chorus “Shally wally, shally wally, shally wally, shally wally,Oompah, oompah, oompah.” ***
But it was to no avail, they were not impressed. The snowdrops found abundant evidence of the looting. Scouts had pockets full of chewits and spangles wrappers. There were liquorice pipes hidden under pillows and one of our swag bags stuffed with fruit and nu bars and milky ways, tied with a reef knot and a woggle was discovered hoisted half way up a tree. (knot tying/merit badge)
For some reason the German police were not called in. Perhaps because it was Ministry of Defence Property, or was it War Department in those days? Was there a jurisdictional problem, or did they just want to cover it up and avoid all the embarrassment of misbehaving British boy scouts. There was certainly consequences. Reparations had to be made. We had all been told to bring to the camp at least 15 shillings’ pocket money. We had to hand it all over, any shortfall being made up from scout troop funds. And in fairness, they recovered a fair amount of the loot.
Our parents were informed and several scouts, including myself were expelled from the troop and were never again to be allowed to participate in scouting activities. But there were no prosecutions, no arrests, just the eternal shame of it all. I regret it. Of course I do. I have never again, in all the years since that summer of ’61, never again, sat by a campfire, beneath the stars, the smell of wood-smoke drifting upwards to the open skies, mixed with the odor of burnt sausages, and the scout master strumming his guitar, sitting in the companionship of the best friends you will ever have and singing late and softly into the night, the immortal words of Lord Baden Powell: Ging,gang,goolie, goolie, whtcha, ging,gang,goo, ging gang goo. ging gang goolie, goolie, goolie watcha, ging, gang goo……
Note: They don’t write lyrics like that anymore:: http://bit.ly/18TKrlJ